Historical Culture

The Heart of Sutherland boasts many points of historical interest ranging from 5000 year old stone circles, through sites of important battles to relics of the industrial age.  By considering a wider geographical area, however (a leisurely half-day or one-day round trip by motor, for example, while based in Bonar Bridge, Lairg, Ardgay, Rosehall etc), a much wider spectrum of interest can be discovered. 


Historical towns and burghs

Inverness, with some fine historical buildings and museum, plus a vitrified fort on Craig Phadrig and a ‘Clava’ ring cairn at Raigmore;  Strathpeffer, an old Victorian spa town but also with a 1000 year old pictish stone;  Cromarty, which used to be a royal burgh and home to the geologist and writer, Hugh Miller; Tain with its Tolbooth and history museum; the planned villages of Plockton and Ullapool; and the fishing town of Wick and Pulteneytown (home to the most northerly distillery on the Scottish mainland)  all offer exciting days out if you base yourself in  central Sutherland.

Industrial Monuments, inc. harbours such as Keiss, Lybster, Latheron and Whaligoe (unique, and with a splendid café at the top of the cliff!)  Distilleries such as Clynelish, Balblair, Pulteney to name but a few can be enjoyed. Ard Neackie limekilns and quarry (by Loch Eriboll), and the flagstone museum at Castletown.


Rural buildings

Some good relics of the crofting community can be found at Laidhay Folk museum (near Dunbeath), the heather-thatched cottage at Plockton, Mary-Ann’s cottage at Dunnet, and, more poignantly, the traces of the clearance villages at Rosal (Strathnaver – which also has a trail depicting aspects of the clearances) and Badbea (near Ousdale).


Castles and historic buildings

The evocative ruins of the coastal castles of Keiss, Girnigoe (with its secret water gate), and Old Wick are not to be missed. Equally haunting is Ardvreck Castle on Loch Assynt associated with the betrayal and capture of Montrose, escaping from the disaster of the battle at Carbisdale. More modern castles of Carbisdale and Dunrobin have intriguing histories, and the latter boasts a most entertaining falconry display during the summer.

A drive up the Strathcarron Glen takes you to Croick Church, a building which featured in the clearance of Glencalvie in 1845.  This tragic event is remembered by the messages of the villagers  scratched on the church windows.  A haunting location and one not to be missed.


Carved stones

Although spread over a much wider geographical area, these ‘pictish stones’ would provide a great day out from the heart of Sutherland.  Examples can be found as far away as Nigg, Rosemarkie and Strathpeffer (all in Ross and Cromarty), Bettyhill (Farr), with the closest being at Edderton and Creich.


Brochs, Hill forts and prehistoric Settlements:

Remains of these prehistoric buildings are scattered profusely throughout the Northern Highlands.  Perhaps the most spectacularly visible are the brochs (Iron Age tower ‘houses’), with impressive examples at Carn Liath (Golspie), Dun Dornaigil (Loch Hope), Dun Na Maigh (Kyle of Tongue) and Clachtoll (near Lochinver). Story boards at each of these try to explain the purpose of these enigmatic structures.


Cairns and standing stones

Remains of these structures are also widely scattered throughout Sutherland. These are the truly prehistoric examples of human activity with some being in the order of 5000 years old. Local examples can be found at the Ord, Lairg, Loch Migdale, Achavanich (Lybster), The Mound (Golspie) and by the Shin River.  Well worth the effort to visit are the chambered cairns at Camster (West Clyth, Caithness), and Cairn of Get (opposite the Whaligoe steps), but those at Clava, East of the Culloden Battlefield near Inverness, are the best of the bunch.

North West Highlands Geopark

The Heart of Sutherland also feature Scotlands first Geopark, and one of only three UNESCO Geoparks in Scotland. 

Every European Geopark encompasses one or more sites of scientific importance that are valuable not only because of their significant geological features but also because they demonstrate outstanding archaeological, ecological or cultural value.

The North West Highlands Geopark is special for a number of reasons:

Unimaginable age – Lewisian Gneiss in the area is 3,000 million years old, which means that the rocks you see along the coastline are among the oldest rocks in Britain.

Incredible complexity – the impacts of the Moine Thrust have created a very complicated geological legacy which puzzled and fascinated geologists for decades!

World class scenery – this complex geology has created stunning landscapes where each rock type produces its own unique and evocative habitats.

Important scientific discoveries – since the 19th century the area designated by the Geopark has been a key site for geological research.

The Geopark also features "Pebble Routes". Pebble Routes are self guided trails allowing you to explore the lesser-traveled by-roads of the North West Highlands Geopark. These driving and cycling routes through some of the nation’s best roads take in small communities and hidden treasures.Pebble Route leaflets contain maps, photographs and  information on the landscape, culture, history and geology.

For more information or to download route leaflets please visit www.nwhgeopark.com

Map of History locations

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Thanks To:

Funding supplied by SSE       Kyle of Sutherland Development Trust